Bay Area Jewish population nears 400,000

According to an updated list of Jewish population estimates around the United States and Canada, the Bay Area is home to the fourth largest Jewish community in North America.

San Francisco, the East Bay and San Jose are listed separately, but their combined Jewish population is 391,500, according to the list, put out last week by the Jewish Federations of North America.

New York City sits atop the list with a Jewish population of 1.54 million, followed by Los Angeles with 600,000.

The combined Bay Area total — which J. took the liberty to compute — includes the figures listed for San Francisco (227,800), the East Bay (100,750) and San Jose (63,000).

The Bay Area’s combined total of 391,500 puts the region in fourth place, well behind No. 3 South Florida, where figures for Broward County, South Palm Beach, Palm Beach County and Miami add up to 565,000.

The list, which is updated annually, was released on Oct. 28 by JFNA’s in-house research group, the Berman Jewish DataBank. In compiling the rankings, the DataBank relied on existing population studies executed by local Jewish federations.

However — and this is a big however — the year of each federation’s most recent study varies widely, as does the methodology; a number of researchers with different approaches work on the local Jewish population surveys. Moreover, while one figure on the list might be for a particular city, other figures cover an area served by a federation.

For example, the figure for San Francisco comes from a 2004 survey by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation covering an area from the Peninsula to Sonoma County. The East Bay figure is from a 2011 study by the Jewish Federation of the East Bay.

Explaining the purpose of the list, Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, the DataBank’s director, said “We do it at JFNA for the federations, so the studies are for their federation catchment area. That may or may not reflect a greater metro area.”

Jewish population surveys are often fraught with question marks. A survey by Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute in 2012, for example, listed the Bay Area’s Jewish adult population at 122,300. But a 1988 survey by late demographer Gary Tobin put the Bay Area Jewish population at 223,000, and he estimated in 1996 that it had grown to 250,000.

Inconsistencies occur based on survey methodology, such as how researchers define who is a Jew. The 2012 survey calculated adults who identified as Jewish when asked about their religion. “The Bay Area has a [high] proportion of Jews who don’t identify with Judaism,” demographer Bruce Phillips told J. two years ago. — j. staff